Hello and welcome to our first newsletter of the New Year.
As President of Save-A-Turtle of the Florida Keys, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on what happened in the Florida Keys and Save-A-Turtle in the last quarter of 2017.
On September 10, 2017 Hurricane Irma tore through the Florida Keys making landfall in the lower Keys as a Category 4 storm. To our knowledge, there is not a person in the Keys who has not been affected by the storm to some extent. For the turtles, this meant that all remaining nests, which were incubating, were lost to the storm; the exact data is still being compiled by the FWCC. It also meant that we saw zero nesting activity in the Keys post storm for the remainder of the season. Irma destroyed a lot of the Keys beaches, all of which were subject to sea turtle nesting whether they are among those surveyed by Save-A-Turtle or not. However, in some areas, the storm actually created new beaches, although much of that terrain is not accessible by humans at present.
Irma destroyed the homes, businesses and livelihoods of a large amount of our Board members and volunteers. Many of us are still displaced, living in trailers, temporary housing, or have already moved away from the Keys. We are all doing the best we can, as we regroup as individuals and an organization.
Very sadly, our mobile educational sea turtle trailer was completely destroyed in the storm. Despite being secured, a huge storm surge and 150 mph winds took the trailer away from its location and dragged it into the waters of the Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve. We have made several trips out to the trailer in an effort to salvage anything we can, as well as surveying the best way to extract the remains from the Bight, however virtually nothing can be salvaged. We’ve lost the trailer itself, the solar array, batteries, all sea turtle friendly lighting, all merchandise, all displays, all educational materials, posters, materials for our event displays, and even the entire document history of the organization, almost 30 years worth of history. Immediately prior to Irma’s arrival, one of our Board members took the Save-A-Turtle scrapbook out of the trailer as a “just in case” thought, and secured it in her home. Although that home was compromised in the storm as well, about half of the scrapbook can be saved, it may not seem like much, but it’s a sign of hope.
In the wake of Irma, we are left with a very long road of recovery to walk as individuals and a community. Our organization had to put meetings and events on hiatus, and as you know we also cancelled our annual end of year celebratory banquet. If you are reading this and not living in the Keys, it’s hard to fathom the level of devastation that occurred, but it’s profound indeed. Those who remain are working around the clock to reclaim our way of life down here, and Save-A-Turtle is no different. Thanks to our incredible (all volunteer) Board, we were able to pull together and do an event in December at the Lower Keys Island Arts Festival. With true grit and little else, we set up a tent and our banner (pulled from the muck of the Coupon Bight) and supported this great community event, talking about sea turtles, the impact the hurricane had on the sea turtles, started raising funds for a new trailer, and spent some time in the sunshine with locals and visitors alike. Our volunteers are the greatest assets of Save-A-Turtle, and I’m personally deeply grateful for the incredible dedication, hard work and good humor they continue to put forth despite their own incredibly difficult circumstances.
As I look ahead to 2018, I see nothing but hope and good things for Save-A-Turtle. Fundraising has already begun for the new trailer, there has been interest among new potential volunteers for beach walkers to replace those who have already left the Keys, we are beginning to schedule off site events again, and our regular monthly meetings will be resuming in January as well. All of our Keys main permit holders will be traveling to St. Augustine the first week of February for the annual Marine Turtle Permit Holder’s Conference, and there has been nothing but caring people stepping forward wanting to become involved in our organization to help rebuild. It will not be easy, but nothing worthwhile comes easy.
I would personally like to extend my own deep personal thanks to the Board for all it has done since Irma, especially to Sherri Crilley who has gone so far above and beyond helping out other Board members, holding emergency meetings in her home, handling the super majority of internet commerce, designing the Irma relief t-shirts, and so much more. All of our Board members have stepped up, and truly an event like Irma is where the rubber meets the road for the good of what people are capable of.
Board elections have been deferred to February due to Irma, so those with a willingness and time to serve are asked to step forward and join. Now more than ever there is a need for us to commit to helping sea turtles survive, rebuild our organization, and support each other as we rebuild everything we hold near and dear.
We wish all of you a very happy New Year, and look forward to sharing our experiences with you through the year.
President, Save-A-Turtle of the Florida Keys, Inc.